NEW YORK Sports fans will set aside their outrage over two college sex abuse scandals along with frustration over labor unrest in the NBA, and keep watching games, ESPN's incoming president told Reuters on Monday.
John Skipper, in his first interview since last week's announcement that he would take over as ESPN's president early next year, said he saw little financial impact to ESPN from two college sports scandals involving allegations of child abuse at Penn State and Syracuse University.
The Penn State charges are "horrendous, as bad as anything" that has happened in sports during ESPN's three decades on the air, Skipper said. Still, he said he expects college sports fans to continue to watch and attend games.
"Sports fans have an unbelievable ability at the end of the day, when the game comes on, to kind of put everything aside and watch the game," Skipper said at the Reuters Media Summit in New York.
At Penn State, former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky faces charges of sexually abusing eight boys. Sandusky has denied the accusations, which so far have brought down legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the school's president. Syracuse on Sunday fired assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine amid charges he sexually molested boys. Fine called the allegations "patently false."
Skipper said allegations like those are "heinous and we dislike seeing it." He added that "it doesn't have that much effect on business.
With regards to the NBA, Skipper said the tentative labor deal reached between players and owners over the weekend came in time to avoid longer-term damage to the league.
The sports network owned by Walt Disney Co is working with the NBA as the league sets a schedule that will allow for a 66-game season. TV ratings for NBA games are unlikely to see any dropoff, Skipper said.
"The fans will come right back," Skipper said. "There is an overblown sentiment that fans desert a sport."
As for ESPN's profits, the delayed start to the NBA season should not have an impact, since most advertisers were willing to move into other sports broadcasts rather than demanding their money back, said Skipper, who oversees content for Walt Disney Co's ESPN. "The fact they missed six weeks will end up being neutral for us," he said.
Skipper will take over ESPN's day-to-day operations starting January 1 when he becomes president and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks. He will take over for longtime President George Bodenheimer, who will leave behind daily management duties after 13 years and become ESPN's executive chairman.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Paul Thomasch. Editing by Peter Lauria)
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